In rabbit embryos, zygotic transcripts are required for the development of the embryo only from the 8- to 16-cell stage onward, more than 44 h after fertilization (i.e., zygotic gene activation; ZGA). In order to characterize the first zygotic transcripts expressed in this species we used a suppression subtractive hybridization approach to isolate RNA that was present after the major transcriptional activation (morula stage), but absent at the 1-cell stage as maternal transcripts. One hundred fourteen differentially expressed inserts were selected and sequenced. A statistical analysis of expression patterns throughout the preimplantation period of development shows that genes transcribed from ZGA onward follow different patterns of expression. Considering their early post-ZGA behavior, we describe at least two main patterns: a gradual increase from ZGA onward, and a sharp increase in expression at ZGA followed by a marked decrease at the morula stage. Our data show that both ZGA and some early post-ZGA events are involved in the establishment of specific patterns of embryonic gene expression.
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